Vitamin K, Plant-Based Health & Your Gut

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There’s a lot of buzz about vitamin K and whether or not people consuming plant-based diets get enough of all its forms. Just what is it that makes this nutrient so important, and do you really have to worry about being deficient?

What is Vitamin K?

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin “family” that includes three forms:

  • Phylloquinone (K1), found in plant foods
  • Menaquinone (K2), found in animal foods and formed in the body from phylloquinone
  • Menodione (K3), a synthetic form often used in supplements

Why Do We Need Vitamin K?

Vitamin K has several “jobs” in the body:

cabbage vitamin k greenSupports bone health

Interactions between vitamin K and specific cells and proteins keep bones healthy and strong. Vitamin K aids in bone health in two ways: It moderates the function of osteoclasts, cells involved in bone demineralization, and it converts osteocalcin, an important protein in bone, to its active form, allowing it to bind with calcium so that the mineral stays in the bones where it belongs.

Aids blood clotting

By modulating the enzymatic processes involved in the production of clotting factors, vitamin K ensures that blood doesn’t clot too little or too much.

Prevents arterial calcification

Calcium deposits in blood vessels are responsible for the hardening of arteries that is the precursor to to heart disease. Vitamin K aids in the activation of proteins responsible for blocking this process.

Other benefits of getting your daily dose of K:

  • Brain and nerve support
  • Prevention of oxidative damage
  • Inhibition of cancer cell growth
  • Regulation of inflammation

Where Do We Get Vitamin K?

Common plant-based sources of vitamin K include:

  • Kale

    green spinach smoothie vitamin k

  • Spinach
  • Turnip greens
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Asparagus
  • Romaine lettuce

So remember, for vitamin K, eat lots of kale—and other leafy greens! If you’re particularly fond of brassicas, also called cruciferous vegetables, you’ll have no trouble getting enough of this important nutrient.

How much vitamin K do you need?

The daily recommended intake (DRI) for vitamin K is 120mcg/day for men and 90mcg/day for women..

Although vitamin K, like other nutrients, is best obtained from foods, it may be supplemented therapeutically for certain conditions, including osteoporosis. Therapeutic doses range from 100-500mcg/day. High-dose supplementation should always be overseen by a health professional.

Since vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin, your body is better able to absorb it if you include a healthy fat source along with your leafy greens. Sprinkle raw nuts or seeds on salads, add ground flax to soups and stews or try one of these delicious recipes:

Do Gut Bacteria Play a Role?

Your body needs both vitamin K1 and K2 for optimal health. Evidence shows gut bacteria do synthesize some vitamin K2 from dietary sources of K1, and antibiotic use can affect the level of production by reducing the overall population of bacteria. However, there’s currently no hard science showing where in the intestines this conversion takes place and whether or not humans are able to absorb enough from the process to meet nutritional requirements.

Other studies demonstrate K2 is created from K1 in peripheral body tissues, suggesting direct consumption of K2 may not be necessary. The only substantial plant-based source of K2 is natto, a fermented soybean product that’s not a big hit in the Western world, although after trying some myself recently, I’d like to point out that it isn’t as bad as some descriptions make it sound.

The jury is still out on whether or not the body converts enough vitamin K1 to vitamin K2 to meet nutritional needs. Until more extensive studies are done on people who have been eating exclusively plant-based diets for years, we probably won’t know for sure how well the conversion works or if a healthier diet may improve the ability to convert the vitamin from one form to another. My advice is to consume a variety of whole plant foods every day, including lots of leafy greens, and avoid processed junk that can interfere with the natural processes your body uses to stay healthy.

(As an aside, it seems strange to me that our gut bacteria — or anything in our bodies — would produce a nutritional compound we can’t or don’t utilize in some way. I’ll be interested to see what science uncovers about vitamin K conversion as more plant-based populations are studied!)

Additional References:

Bauman, E., Friedlander, J. (2013). NC202 Men and Women’s Health. Therapeutic Nutrition Part I. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College

Bauman, E. NC106.4 Micronutrients: Intro to Vitamins, the Fat Soluble Vitamins A, E, D, &K [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from Bauman College: http://dashboard.baumancollege.org/mod/resource/view.php?id=1454

Murray, M., Pizzorno, J., Pizzorno, L. (2005). Vitamins. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Simon and Schuster

Vitamin K (n.d.). In World’s Healthiest Foods. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=112

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Remixing it Up: A RAD New Way to Clean Your Clothes!

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Meet my workout clothes.stinky gym clothes need to be RAD

They stink.

I mean, they really, REALLY stink. It would be embarrassing if I didn’t live alone. Heavy strength training along with frequent HIIT, pyramid and circuit workouts will do that to a (home) gym outfit.

“Wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “The post title promised I’d read about something RAD. Why the heck do I care about your smelly workout clothes?”

Because there’s something else I’d like you to meet. It’s called Remix, and it’s a brand new product from the ever-innovative RAD Soap Company.

Remixing Your Laundry Day

Remix comes in three scents: House Mix, One Hit Wonder and Grateful Threads. I was recently introduced to all three at the RAD Remix party, held at the RAD Soap store in Stuyvesant Plaza in Guilderland, NY. RAD opened their first retail store last November and has been turning out fun new products at a rapid pace ever since. Remix is the latest in a series of releases that include Voodoo body wash, Bath Juice bath soaks, Tub Tabs and rollerball scents.remix rad soap laundry soap

The buzz about Remix started several weeks before it made its debut at the party, which was a full-on dance party complete with entertaining dance tunes spun by none other than Zak the Soap Bro, a mini-buffet full of snacks (fruit included!) and a beer tasting. Remix was clearly the star of the show, and balloons added a final festive touch. RADsters popped in and out, stayed a while, shopped and talked, enjoying the welcoming and laid-back atmosphere.

Of course, I had to hit up the party to see all my RAD friends and finally try this new product I’d heard so much about.

What really piqued my interest about Remix was the promise that, unlike other detergents I’ve tried, RAD’s blend could banish the stench of gym clothes. Because, I’ll admit, there is nothing I’ve ever been able to do to get that workout ensemble to freshen up and STAY fresh. Another locally-made detergent had a nice scent but wasn’t powerful enough. Unscented natural detergent got the smell out initially, but it came right back after the first workout of the week.

After the party, I took my little sample bag of House Mix scent back to the apartment and used it in my usual Saturday laundry load. Upon opening it, I discovered a nondescript white powder with larger soapy “notes” in it, all sending up a very light “cashmere” scent. How did it stack up to all the previous detergents I’ve tried?

Does Remix Pass the Laundry Test?

The gym clothes, once again, serve as the best example. No smell. First workout, pure cardio? Sweaty, but still “cashmere”-scented. Even later in the week, after several HIIT and strength training sessions, the smell of the detergent lingered. I could walk into my bathroom without being bowled over by my workout clothes hanging on the door.

RAD sap remix house mix laundry

The rest of the laundry fared just as well. I’ll admit to occasionally smelling my own sleeve the first day or two simply to enjoy the pleasant scent of the detergent, and because it was so hard to believe the smell stayed without being overpowering. It’s especially nice if you wash bedding with it. Then you get to climb under the covers and stick your face into a fresh pillowcase full of RAD scent.

You also get to enjoy the softest clothes ever. EVER. I’ve tried a lot of detergents in the past, from the big names to the too-expensive types meant to keep dark clothes from fading to other locally-produced powder detergents. They all had their perks, but none performed anywhere close to Remix in terms of softness. Regardless of fabric type, every single thing came out of the dryer soft as could be. Even the towels, although these are always aided somewhat by the dryer ball I toss in with every load.

My only qualm about this detergent blend is some of the soap “notes” didn’t dissolve all the way and dropped out of the clothes when I was transferring them from the washer to the dryer. This may have been because the small bag didn’t come with a scoop, and I might have used a bit too much for that first load. Other than that, no issues at all. Two thumbs way up for the RAD family again!

Get Your RAD On

Remix is currently available in five-pound bags at the RAD store for $18.99. That’s 50 full loads! Think about it. If you do laundry once a week like I do, that’s almost a year’s worth of laundry. One year of soft, amazing-smelling laundry.

And no stinky gym clothes. (If you’re not in the Albany, NY area, small bags will be available online in the future.)

You can follow the RAD Soap story on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And, of course, check back here for more RAD chatter in the future.

Read More About RAD!

FULL DISCLOSURE: I was offered a free large bag of Remix in exchange for writing a review. All attendees of the Remix party received free samples.

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The 5 Mistakes You’re Probably Making When Choosing Healthy Foods

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You know the feeling: You’re standing in the grocery store, eying a selection of cereal, snacks or frozen foods and wondering which ones to buy. Should you choose the cereal with “35% less sugar!” or the chips made with coconut oil instead of vegetable oil? Is the “light” meal better than the others surrounding it in the freezer case? Should you even be eating any of these things on the restrictive fad diet plan you’re trying to follow?

Believe it or not, eating healthy really is straightforward. It’s only in the recent past that the simplicity of eating has become obfuscated by the insane amount of choices the food industry puts before us every day. Just a few generations ago, planning meals and snacks didn’t involve wading your way through a dizzying selection of processed food-like products. Food, for the most part, was recognizable, and it wasn’t necessary to have a degree in food science to understand what you were putting in your body.

Making healthy choices in today’s over-saturated food environment can be more than a little baffling. Food companies make wild claims apparently backed up by science, the media takes nutrition studies out of context and a host of dubious “authorities” fill the remaining space with conflicting opinions on every type of diet known to man. It’s no wonder people have a hard time knowing what to eat.

When you walk down store aisles stuffed with stuff and feel confused beyond belief, you’re not alone. There are several common mistakes people make when trying to sort out what’s healthy and what’s not.

Are you making these healthy eating mistakes?

5 Healthy Eating Mistakes

1) Choosing Packaged Goods with Health Claims

The health benefits emblazoned on food packages are there because food companies want consumers to buy their products, not necessarily because the product is good for you. Chances are you’ve seen most of these labels as you shop:

  • Zero trans fat
  • Gluten-free or vegan
  • Natural, organic or made with organic ingredients
  • Heart healthy whole grains
  • Contains antioxidants
  • Superfood power
  • % daily value of vitamins and minerals
  • More anything potentially healthy than the leading brand

Many of these labels are exaggerated or downright misleading. A product claiming to have no trans fat can have as much as half a gram per serving and still list zero on the package. The term “natural” has no official definition, and using organic ingredients can’t turn a highly processed product into a health food. The synthetic vitamins and minerals added to processed foods are often synthesized in factories overseas from products such as lanolin  and likely don’t have the same benefits as nutrients found in the original context.

Have you ever noticed food such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes rarely carry these sorts of labels? These foods contain nutrients packaged together with other compounds, many with functions yet to be documented, which are designed to work together in our bodies to deliver essential nutrition on a cellular level. There’s no need to add anything or make any claims because the health benefits you experience from eating unadulterated foods speak for themselves.

2) Switching to “Healthier” Oil

Olive oil and coconut oil have enjoyed an almost mystical status, being touted as “healthy” additions to any diet. Although these two oils are technically better for you than the highly processed vegetable oils used in most restaurants and packaged foods, no oil can be rightly categorized as healthy. Repeated consumption of oily foods causes stiffening of the arterial walls, making it difficult for blood to flow as it should and increasing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Olive oil isn't a health miracleSince this is the case, why do you hear so much about the benefits of switching to olive, coconut or another “healthier” oil? Any move away from processed vegetable oils, which are usually made from soy or canola using a chemical-laden process resulting in the extraction or destruction of nearly all nutrients, is likely to show some improvement.

The high levels of omega-6 fats in processed oils cause inflammation. When combined with oil’s artery-stiffening effects, this can promote the formation of plaques in your blood vessels and potentially leading to heart attacks or strokes. Coconut oil doesn’t trigger inflammation, so people who make the switch after years of slamming their circulatory systems with heavily processed oils will probably feel better, at least at first. The anti-inflammatory polyphenols in olive oil may provide a similar effect.

With that said, more research is necessary to determine if consuming small amounts of oil on occasion as part of a diet otherwise made up of unprocessed plant foods has similar harmful effects in the long term.

This doesn’t mean some oils have superpowers or can magically turn a bad diet into a good one. Oil usually contains between 120 and 130 calories per tablespoon, which adds up fast, especially if you’re eating foods containing the stuff at every meal. These calories can be better obtained from unprocessed foods, including the whole fats found in nuts, seeds and avocados. Whole foods also contain anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, which can help to combat inflammation instead of causing it.

What can you eat for the same amount of calories found in a tablespoon of oil? Here’s just a small sample:

  • One medium apple or pear
  • Two small oranges
  • 3 1/2 cups of kale
  • Just over half a cup of cooked brown rice
  • 1 1/2 slices of sprouted bread
  • About 1/3 of an average avocado
  • 3/4 ounce of most nuts

3) Ordering the Diet or “Light” Option

Remember the Snackwells craze when consumers snapped up and scarfed down more low-fat cookies and snack cakes than stores could keep on the shelves? The thought at the time was, if the label said low fat, the treats were automatically healthier. Unfortunately, people wound up eating more calories — and more processed food-like substances — than they would if they’d stuck with the originals.

The same confusion prevails today in fad diets (see point #4 below) and fad foods like “100-calorie” snack packs and “lean” frozen meals. Restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon with “lighter” menu items for health-conscious diners. To understand why these labels don’t mean you’re getting a more nutritious product, take a look at what’s really in a few mainstream options masquerading as healthy choices:

  • The “Mediterranean Veggie” sandwich at Panera Bread contains 1,090 milligrams of sodium and 12 grams of fat. Add a “seasonal greens” salad, and you get an additional 11 grams of fat.
  • McDonald’s breakfast menu boasts oatmeal, but unlike the kind you make at home, their version contains 33 grams of sugar and a collection of preservatives and thickeners.
  • Nearly all of Lean Cuisine’s vegetarian meals contain some form of cheese, butter or milk. The “Classic Cheese Lasagna” has five varieties, and is made with “blanched macaroni product.”

And those snack packs? They may have only 100 calories, but most of these come from processed flour, sugar and oil. (One exception is these 100-calorie roasted edamame packs from Seapoint Farms.) Fortunately, as noted above, there are plenty of low-calorie, nutrient-dense “grab and go” options available right from nature.

4) Compartmentalizing Foods by Macronutrient

Low-carb. Low-fat. High-protein. All these popular diets have one thing in common: they demonize one macronutrient while singing the praises of the others. Such an approach ignores the health benefits that may be gained from whole foods in the “forbidden” group. High-carb diets are prime examples of this mentality. These diets lump all types of carbohydrates together, creating confusion over the difference between processed and whole grains and making vegetables and fruits seem like dietary enemies.

The problem with this approach? Nearly all food is composed of more than one type of macronutient. Beans have protein, but they also contain complex carbohydrates. Nuts provide both beneficial fats and protein. Even green leafy vegetables deliver trace amounts of fat. Diets advocating severe restriction of an entire macronutrient category put you at risk for deficiencies in essential micronutrients and often perpetuate false information about why such a diet is healthier than others. Pay attention to the rhetoric, and you’ll often discover proponents of these diets make their claims seem like something new and revolutionary, a stunning “expose” proving something you always thought was good for you has actually been killing you slowly your whole life. After convincing you of the error of your ways, they’ll probably try to sell you something.

There are certain medical conditions requiring specialized restricted diets, but healthy people should aim to consume foods containing all three “macros” every day. Choosing whole plant foods the majority of the time and eating a variety of different types of food should deliver the right balance of major nutrients.

5) Assuming All Sugars are the SameFructose in fruit isn't the same

Thanks to “low carb” diet fads and the persistent idea that consuming sugar causes diabetes (fat has a lot more to do with it), there’s a great deal of confusion about the difference between naturally occurring sugar and sugar added to products. The biggest offender? Fructose, the same sugar found in both high fructose corn syrup and fruit.

It’s become common to question whether fruit’s concentration of fructose makes it unhealthy. The demonizing of sugar in all its forms makes it easy to become wary of a food that’s been a staple of our diets since God placed Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. However, putting products like soda in the same category as whole, unprocessed fruits ignores a much bigger picture.

In terms of context, the fructose added to beverages and packaged foods bears about as much resemblance to fruit’s fructose as bleached white flour does to whole wheat berries. As this article on Whole 9 points, out, “fruit isn’t just fructose. It’s also a rich source of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber – things that make you healthier.”

Because fruit’s sugars come in a package containing all these other compounds, blood sugar doesn’t rise as quickly. In fact, one study showed adding berries to a sugary meal can actually prevent the expected “sugar high,” in which the body releases large amounts of insulin in response to an onslaught of undiluted sugar. You’re also much less likely to over-consume fruit than soda or sweetened processed snacks. It takes a lot more effort to crunch your way through an apple than it does to polish off a bottle of your favorite brand of sugar water.

So what’s the best way to make truly healthy food choices?

  • Consume whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods whenever possible, including fresh and frozen vegetables, low-salt canned vegetables, fresh fruits, unsweetened frozen fruits, whole grains and legumes.
  • Shop in bulk bins or seek out mail-order co-ops for whole grains and dried beans. These are not only healthy choices but also typically much cheaper when purchased in bulk.
  • Flavor foods with fresh or dried herbs, spices and low-salt condiments instead of relying on artificial ingredients.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the white noise in the world of nutrition and the constant battles between proponents of conflicting dietary dogmas. But when you stick with the basics and eat a variety of unprocessed plant-based foods, it’s easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle — and enjoy delicious meals every day.

Want to learn more about living a healthy plant-based lifestyle? Join “A Greener Gut” on Facebook for articles, videos, Q&A and more!

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Moving Forward — Gut Health, the Microbiome and Vlogging

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When Quantum Vegan became GreenGut Wellness, I knew I wanted to keep on promoting the benefits of a plant-based diet to my clients and readers like you. I also knew it was time to take things in a new direction — to focus more on digestive health and the role of the gut microbiome in overall well-being.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about where to take this blog. I love sharing recipes and information on seasonal veggies, bringing you guest articles, sharing books or products and generally having a good time. But with all that’s going on in my life right now with GreenGut Wellness and personal obligations, my approach to the blog is in need of a makeover.

I’m not going to stop posting, but I am going to establish a schedule that’s a little easier for me to keep up. I’ve felt a bit overwhelmed trying to stay on top of social media, work with clients, be a Toastmaster and maintain a healthy personal and spiritual life. Right now, I can’t say what this posting schedule will be, but if you subscribe, you’ll see new posts whenever they go live. Join my email list for occasional content updates and newsletters, too! (The newsletter will be going quarterly starting next month, arriving in your inbox in January, April, July and October.)

Right now, these are my thoughts on the types of posts I’d like to share in the future:

  • Collections of the latest microbiome news
  • Reviews and summaries of interesting studies on and books about gut health
  • Articles on how plant-based diets influence the microbiome
  • Dietary advice and “how to” articles to show you how to take care of your gut
  • Occasional recipes targeted for specific areas of digestive health

I would also love to start vlogging now and then. One thing I feel has been lacking in this blog from the start is a sense of personality. I’d like to lighten up the formal, technical tone a bit by showing you who I really am — because I like to be fun, straightforward and silly. I also think it would be a more entertaining way to share plant-based diet tips and tidbits from my own experiments in the kitchen.

But I don’t just want to post what feel like posting — I want to hear from you! What do you want to see on the GreenGut Wellness blog? What would help you get healthier, decode confusing dietary advice and achieve your lifestyle goals? That’s the kind of content I want to bring you. Leave a comment, or fill out this brief survey to help me make this blog the best it can be.

Thanks for staying with me throughout this journey! I’m excited to see what the rest of 2017 will bring for GreenGut and the future of the microbiome. I’m betting we’ll see even more about how it relates to plant-based health!

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Make it a Plant-Based Winter, Part 5: Robust Rutabaga

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Welcome to the fifth and final post in my Plant-Based Winter series on winter vegetables! Spring is fast approaching, but most of these veggies are still readily available in stores and at year-round farmers markets. Catch up on the others to get all the tasty info:


Root vegetables are some of my favorites. Carrots, parsnips, beets, radishes, kohlrabi, turnips and, of course, today’s feature: rutabagas!

A Rutabaga By Any Other Name

Depending on where you live, you might have heard a rutabaga called by many different names: swede, Swedish turnip, yellow turnip or even neep. (This last one is thanks to its scientific name, Brassica napus.) All these names refer to a globe-shaped root with a purple blush on top and a yellow-orange bottom. Like cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, rutabagas are brassicas and have the same characteristic bitter overtones to their flavor. Their hardy nature means they store well, so you’ll find them hanging on long into the winter and even early spring without losing firmness or flavor.

Rutabagas were created by crossing cabbages with turnips and may have originated in either Scandinavia or Russia. The vegetable spread around the world from the 1600s to the 1800s and is now found as a staple in most grocery stores, at farmers markets and in the gardens of brassica lovers.

Real Rutabaga Nutrition

As with other brassicas, both the root and leaves of rutabagas are edible. They may be consumed raw or cooked in a variety of recipes and provide similar health benefits to other plants in the cruciferous family.

Eating 100 grams of rutabaga roots gives you:

  • 2 grams of fiber
  • 1 gram of protein
  • 30 percent daily value of vitamin C
  • Modest amounts of B vitamins
  • Modest amounts of potassium and other trace minerals

All for just 39 calories! (Unfortunately, I had a hard time finding nutritional information for the leaves, but I think it’s safe to assume they’re good for you in similar ways to other leafy greens, including antioxidant and fiber content.) Vitamin C boosts immunity and is an important nutrient in collagen synthesis.Potassium helps maintain a proper sodium-potassium balance for cell health, promotes healthy cardiovascular function and partners with other nutrients to make sure muscles work as they should.

Rutabagas contain glucosinolates, a compound found in many brassicas with the potential to lower your risk of developing certain types of cancer. Acting as antioxidants, these compounds help neutralize free radicals in the body before they can damage cells, preventing mutations that could potentially lead to the formation of tumors.

And, of course, there’s the all-important dietary fiber and its power to keep your gut healthy! Notice how every fruit and vegetable in this series has this important component? It’s hard not to get enough fiber on a plant-based diet as long as you concentrate on eating whole, unprocessed foods the majority of the time. High fiber intake creates a strong, diverse microbiome and promotes the integrity of the colonic wall to reduce the risk of complications from poor digestion, including constipation and food allergies.

Dr. Axe has an attractive chart and infographic showing the nutritional content and benefits of rutabagas, along with some fun facts on their history and preparation.

Selecting and Preparing Rutabagas

Looking for the perfect rutabaga? You want a tuber with few or no holes and a firm texture free of bruises. Select rutabagas that feel heavy for their size and have an even color.

Many rutabagas are coated with wax to make them stay fresh longer, but removing the wax means removing the skin, too. Unlike that of some winter vegetables, the skin of the rutabaga is edible. Look for varieties without the wax to get the full benefit of the nutrients found in vegetable skins. If you can’t find an unwaxed variety, use a knife and a vegetable peeler to remove as much of the wax as possible before using.

Enjoy your (wax-free) rutabaga:

  • Raw with hummus or another healthy dip
  • Chopped in salads
  • Roasted with your favorite seasonings or a bit of maple syrup
  • Cooked and mashed on its own or mixed with other root vegetables (try parsnips, turnips or celeriac)

Want specific recipes to follow? Try these tasty sources:

  • Finding Vegan’s archive of rutabaga recipes—  Including fries and an inventive rutabaga gnocchi!
  • Kale and Rutabaga Lasagna from Inspiralized — Layers of rutabaga slices, cashew cheese and garlic kale with tomato-basil sauce
  • Maple-Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Rutabaga with Hazelnuts — This recipes from, of all places, Martha Stewart, uses maple syrup to create a sweet veggie side dish (omit the oil for a truly whole-food, plant-based option)

Root veggies store well, and rutabagas are no exception. Keep them whole, or store leftovers in a sealed plastic bag, in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.


I’ll admit it — my favorite way to enjoy rutabaga is raw! How about you? I’d love to hear how you incorporate this root veggie into your own meals!

Featured image: “Swede (The Vegetable)” by pin add is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Make it a Plant-Based Winter, Part 4: Astounding Artichokes

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Welcome to post number 4 in my 5-part series on winter fruits and vegetables! Be sure to check out the rest of the posts for more seasonal deliciousness:


Okay, I cheated a bit for this post. Today, it’s all about artichokes, which are technically a spring vegetable with a harvesting season beginning in March. That means you have a little under a month to get ready to enjoy all the amazing ways artichokes can be eaten and be ready to pick the perfect specimens when the time comes. As someone who has only eaten the “heart” of this veggie, I’m excited at the prospect of trying a fresh one this year!

What is an Artichoke, Anyway?

Did you know artichokes are edible flower buds from a species of thistle plant? The most common type to appear in grocery stores is the green globe artichoke, although there are also purple and white varieties. These unique veggies were introduced to the U.S. in the 1600s, courtesy of the Spanish. Today, almost 100 percent of the crop grown in the country originates in California, with three-quarters being grown in Castroville, the “Artichoke Center of the World.”

Domestic artichokes begin to appear in stores around March and stick around until June. You might be able to find them later into the season if the weather stays favorable in warmer areas of California.

Admirable Artichoke Benefits

When you want to go all in and enjoy artichokes before they’re stripped down to hearts and canned or packed in jars, it takes a little work. But with the benefits you can get, it’s well worth the time (and potentially getting poked by the leaves). Here’s what you’ll find in a 100-gram serving of artichokes:

  • 47 calories
  • 5.4 grams of dietary fiber
  • 20% daily value of vitamin C
  • 12% daily recommended intake of vitamin K
  • 27% daily value of copper
  • A wide range of B vitamins
  • Trace minerals, including phosphorous, magnesium, manganese and iron

Fiber gives artichokes the apparent ability to lower cholesterol, binding with excess and escorting it out of the body before it can enter the bloodstream. Artichokes are also considered a bitter vegetable. Bitters contain compounds like cynarin, which stimulate the liver and gallbladder, help support healthy bile flow to provide a second avenue for clearing cholesterol. Better bile production and movement also aids in absorption of nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins.

Silymarin, caffeic acid and other antioxidants found in artichokes protect against free radical damage, which can cause inflammation and a multitude of other health problems if left unchecked. In tandem with fiber, these compounds may be part of the reason why artichokes are associated with a reduction in IBS symptoms. Vitamin K and phosphorous both play a role in maintaining bone health, working to fix calcium into bones and maintain proper mineral balance.

Selecting and Preparing Artichokes

Fresh artichokes can be intimidating if you’ve never cooked one, but picking the perfect green specimen is simple. Just look for artichokes with all the petals still closed, no bruising or splits and that feel heavy for their size. Ripe artichokes will squeak when squeezed (so of course, I’m going to have to try this). For recipes requiring artichoke hearts, look for canned varieties packed in water with minimal salt, or grab some frozen and thaw before using.

Fresh artichokes keep for up to a week when stored in the refrigerator in sealed bags. Don’t wash the artichokes before storing; instead, moisten the stem to promote freshness. When you’re ready to use the veggies, rinse thoroughly or soak in water with a bit of lemon juice to remove any grit. After cleaning, artichokes can be:

  • Boiled upside-down in a pot of water until soft
  • Steamed for about half an hour
  • Baked
  • Roasted
  • Grilled
  • Stuffed

Serve whole cooked artichokes as appetizers or side dishes, pulling off the leaves and scraping out the soft flesh with your teeth. The stem is also edible and can be eaten along with the bud or saved for use in another dish.

An Appendix of Artichoke Recipes

  • Vegetable Pallea — Total bias here; this is my favorite recipe featuring artichoke hearts, and one of my favorite recipes ever. Each time Robin Robertson updates this dish, it gets better, and she really hit the nail on the head with the version from Vegan Without Borders.
  • Pizza with Onions, Peppers, and Artichokes — From Nava Atlas’ VegKitchen
  • Vegan Artichoke Pizza — Featured in The Daily Green
  • Walnut-Crusted Artichoke Hearts — Spied on One Green Planet, these little appetizers are fried, but they look so good with the walnut coating that I couldn’t resist including them. I’m sure they could be baked instead!
  • Healthy Spinach Artichoke Appetizer — Parties for Pennies lightens things up a bit with bite-sized stuffed mushrooms.
  • Vegan Spinach Artichoke Dip — It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken seems to have a thing for creating vegan cheese dishes that include the often-elusive “stretchy” element of dairy cheese, and this dish is no exception. (I’ve tried the stretchy mozzarella. It’s amazing.)
  • Healthy Spinach Artichoke Dip — A quicker version of the iconic dip from Forks Over Knives, made with beans and nutritional yeast

Have you cooked whole artichokes, or are you more of an artichoke heart fan? Tell me how you plan to use artichokes in your spring meals!

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Make It a Plant-Based Winter, Part 3: Compelling Cranberries

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Don’t miss the chance to add more flavor to your winter. Check out the whole series!


Most people are only familiar with them in the form of a jelly-like sauce appearing on Thanksgiving. Occasionally, they’re features dried in granola bars, muffins or bagels, usually sweetened to excess and coated in oil. But these little fruits are one of winter’s most amazing sources of powerful phytochemicals.

What are they — why, cranberries, of course!

Craving Cranberries?

Cranberries are often associated with Thanksgiving, but you can find them fresh in stores from the fall through the winter and in the freezer section all year long. Native to North America, cranberries grow on shrubs and are cultivated in the northeastern part of the United States, in Oregon and Washington states and in parts of Canada.

When it’s time to harvest, most growers flood cranberry beds with water and run harvesters through to remove the berries from the plants. The berries float and can therefore easily be collected. However, this method tends to damage the fruits, making them more suitable for freezing or turning into canned cranberry sauce than selling fresh. Between five and ten percent of U.S. crops are still harvested dry, producing a more attractive yield that can be bagged or sold in bulk.

cranberries in a pan by Keira freeimagesBerry Benefits: Antioxidants for Health

With only 45 calories per cup of whole berries, cranberries are a low-calorie way to add beneficial phytonutrients o your diet. These tart little gems pack one of the biggest antioxidant punches in the fruit world with an ORAC value around 9,000, falling just a little short of wild bluebrries. ORAC stands for “oxygen radical absorbance capacity” and expresses the level of antioxidants in a food, providing an indication of how well the food may combat oxidative stress in the body.

Eating 100 grams of cranberries also provides:

  • 18% daily value of manganese
  • 18% daily value of vitamin C
  • Small amounts of vitamin E and vitamin K

However, the antioxidant compounds are what really steal the show. With phenolic acids, proanthocyanidins, anthocyanins, flavanoids and triterpenoids (among others), cranberries deserve the title of “superfood.” All of these substances work together to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects in the body.

Part of the way cranberries fight inflammation is by blocking the action of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), part of the body’s pro-inflammatory cascade.Research into the cancer-protective effects is ongoing, but it seems cranberries are able to inhibit key enzymes in the cancer formation process and promote the natural death of damaged cells. The compounds in cranberries may also be able to keep enzymes related to the development of atherosclerosis in check, providing a dual benefit with the power of the antioxidants to protect against the free radical damage which can contribute to heart disease.

When it comes to gut health, cranberries play a role in lowering inflammation thanks to compounds such as quercetin. Inflammation can cause damage, including leaky gut syndrome, and result in symptoms ranging from discomfort and digestive distress to intolerances and allergies. There is some evidence cranberries may even increase the good bacteria in the gut, thereby boosting the health of the colon walls and providing potential protection against colon cancer.

And here’s one I found particularly interesting, mostly because it’s not an effect you hear touted much about superfoods: cranberry phytonutrients can protect against periodontal disease by lowering the production of the inflammatory cytokines that lead to puffy, red gums and subsequent tooth decay or loss.

If you’re curious about what else cranberries can do, WHFoods and Dr. Greger both have even more fascinating information on their power.

holiday cranberries by jynmeyer freeimagesSelecting and Preparing Cranberries

To purchase the perfect cranberries, look for plump, shiny fruits free of winkles. The deeper the color, the higher the antioxidant content. As with all fresh foods, you’re better off consuming the whole fruit than processed juices. Bottled juice not only tends to be full of sugar but also lacks the full complement of nutrients necessary for cranberries to exert their protective effects.

Fresh cranberries last for one to two months in the refrigerator, but they can be frozen for as long as a year — so don’t hesitate to stock up when you find a sale! Simply toss the whole bag in the freezer without opening it, and the berries will be there waiting if you find yourself craving a tart treat in the middle of the summer. Dried cranberries have a long shelf life and can be kept in the fridge for up to a year after the “best by” date and indefinitely in the freezer.

People with kidney disease or who take warfarin should be careful with cranberry intake, as the fruit may increase oxalate excretion in urine and has the potential to increase the effects of certain pharmaceutical drugs.

Ready to pump your meals full of antioxidants just by adding this one seasonal fruit?

  • Go sweet by adding dried cranberries to oatmeal or museli
  • Mix fresh or dried into baked goods before cooking
  • Use dried or fresh cranberries in savory pilafs or stuffed squash filling
  • Throw fresh or dried onto salads
  • Add dried to trail mix or homemade granola bars
  • If you’re into tart flavors, eat them raw, straight up (Not for the faint of heart!)
  • And, of course, homemade cranberry sauce!

Looking for specific recipes? Cranberries can star in many varied dishes:

Note: Most dried cranberries contain sweetener, oil or both. I’ve seen oil- and sugar-free ones in some local museli, but haven’t been able to find where to buy them myself. You can try making your own with this recipe, omitting the honey and oil. If you do, let me know how they turn out!


I’d love to hear how you’re enjoying cranberries this year. Share your favorite dishes in the comments!

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